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Montana Supreme Court Opinion Cites Professional Reputation, Abilities of Attorney Roger J. Dodd

Robert F. Spohrer

In a recently published opinion, Montana Supreme Court Justices commented on Attorney Roger J. Dodd and his professional reputation as a highly experienced and respected lawyer – a significant honor that speaks to the decades of contributions he has made as a litigator, legal educator, and proven advocate.

The matter arose from a contract dispute case, and arguments over the reasonableness of attorney fees, which the state of Montana determines through the use of a seven-factor test.

Background on the Case

The case – Kenyon-Nobel Lumber Co v. Dependent Foundations, Inc. – was a Montana Supreme Court case involving a building supply store which entered into a credit agreement with a customer (DF) for the purchase of building materials on credit. When the customer later made the decision to wind down his business, issues arose regarding debts accrued by an employee and authorized agent who had used the company’s credit account, despite having started a business of his own.

When attempts to collect the principal balance on the account from the former employee were unsuccessful, the plaintiff filed suit against the original company and its owner, which, after some back and forth efforts to settle with the admitted owner of the debts, eventually proceeded to a bench trial.

At trial, the District Court ruled against the plaintiff, in favor of DF and its owner on a breach of contract counterclaim, and awarded DF and its owner attorneys’ fees for the successful claim (tough not for four other unsuccessful claims). The case was eventually appealed to the Supreme Court of Montana, where the lower court’s decision to award attorneys’ fees associated with the successful claim was upheld.

The Value of an Experienced Lawyer

The case involved arguments specifically over the hourly rates associated with the defendant’s attorneys, and in particular the rate for Attorney Roger Dodd, which the plaintiff / appellant argued were unreasonable because they exceeded the prevailing rate for contract dispute lawyers in Montana, and that should have been substantially reduced.

Concerning the matter of the reasonableness of Roger’s rate, the opinion discusses the seven-part test used in Montana for determining the reasonableness of attorneys’ fees. These factors (known as Plath factors) generally include:

  • The nature of the attorney’s services and the time and labor involved;
  • The importance of the litigation and the money or value affected;
  • The professional skill and experience the case required; and
  • The attorneys’ standing in their profession and the results they produce.

Ultimately, the Montana Supreme Court ruled against the plaintiff’s arguments that Roger’s rates should have been significantly reduced. Their reasoning stems from consideration of the factors listed above, which affirmed the importance of the litigation to the defendant and the complexity of the case, and specifically cited Dodd’s achievements and skill. As noted in the opinion:

“The court emphasized Roger’s high standing in the profession, his forty-plus years of experience as a trial lawyer, and that he has lectured and taught nationwide and internationally for decades.”

Disputes over the reasonableness of attorneys’ fees are not uncommon, but opinions from high courts citing the virtues of a trial lawyer and the value of their services aren’t exactly the norm. The Montana Supreme Court opinion illustrates the legal exercise of evaluating a lawyer’s skill, and speaks to the widespread respect and esteem Roger has cultivated over the course of his career.

Attorney Roger J. Dodd

Roger J. Dodd, Senior Partner at Spohrer Dodd, is a dual Board-Certified Civil Trial and Criminal Trial Specialist who has been recognized among the country’s leading lawyers in publications such as The Best Lawyers in America, Martindale-Hubbell’s Preeminent Lawyers, and Super Lawyers magazine. Over his many years in practice, Dodd has established himself as an acclaimed legal author, lecturer, and media commentator, and has dedicated considerable time to pro bono work and varied roles within the local and legal communities.

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